Saturday 3 December 2016

Oireachtas powers must be restored

Published 31/01/2016 | 02:30

'The Banking Inquiry proves beyond doubt the imperative to restore the rights of the Oireachtas to those which were generally believed to exist prior to the Abbeylara judgments by striking a proper balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of parliament under the Constitution and to give due weight to the Constitutional separation of powers.' Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg
'The Banking Inquiry proves beyond doubt the imperative to restore the rights of the Oireachtas to those which were generally believed to exist prior to the Abbeylara judgments by striking a proper balance between the rights of the individual and the rights of parliament under the Constitution and to give due weight to the Constitutional separation of powers.' Photo: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg

The limited nature of the Banking Inquiry report has highlighted the constraints placed on the Houses of the Oireachtas to undertake such inquiries in the first place, a situation which needs to be urgently resolved by the new government. It is deeply unsatisfactory that the Irish parliament remains so much less powerful in this field than its equivalents in almost all other EU member states. In the first instance, the new government must restore the delicate balance between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as part of an inter-related set of deeper reforms which the current Government promised but failed to fully deliver.

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That balance was upset by what is known as the Abbeylara judgment, a majority decision of the Supreme Court in April 2002 which identified significant limitations and constraints on the ability of the Oireachtas to undertake inquiries.

A key finding was that the Oireachtas did not have an inherent power to conduct inquiries; that although the Oireachtas could legitimately sanction other bodies and tribunals to investigate matters of public importance, the Oireachtas itself had limited inherent investigative authority. The major issue arising from the judgment was the significant limitations on the power of the Oireachtas to hold parliamentary inquiries into matters involving alleged personal culpability of individual citizens for wrongdoing, resulting in findings potentially damaging to their good name and reputation.

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